Category Archives: Gardens

Why Aquaponics in Prison?

By William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Science Technician. Photos by Marisa Pushee.

In early 2018, the Sustainability in Prison Project (SPP) partnered with Symbiotic Cycles to bring aquaponic gardening to Cedar Creek Corrections Center. I joined the program in spring of 2019 and I’m excited to be a part of this project because I view sustainability as a critical element of food security. This program exposes incarcerated individuals like myself to a new skill set required for maintaining alternative agriculture practices. I have also been excited to learn that this rapidly growing field is gaining momentum worldwide both as a backyard hobby and as a larger-scale means to harvest produce without tilling and weeding.

From left to right: SPP Biological Science Technician William Rathgeber, Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli, and SPP Biological Science Technician Sanchez Bagley.

Aquaponic gardens can produce food naturally and organically with much less water than a conventional garden. Aquaponics is also more sustainable than traditional farming practices. The project comprises of an aquaculture system based on a symbiotic relationship between bacteria, plants, and fish in a closed ecosystem. The plants grow in a soil-free aquaculture and the plant roots clean the water for the fish while the fish provide nutrients for the plants. The plants and the fish work together so the water can be recycled indefinitely. Only evaporated water needs to be replenished. 

Environmental, economic, and health concerns are excellent reasons to adopt an aquaponic garden. Aquaponic gardening offers a chance to reduce our carbon footprint because the produce being harvested doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to your grocery store. It also doesn’t add fertilizers that can pollute the local water reservoir or harm the local flora and fauna. Additionally, aquaponics is becoming popular among young and old locavores (people who buy local) concerned with nutrition, avoiding artificial additives, and protecting the environment.

Kale has been a consistent success in the system, growing well through the winter.

In an increasingly environmental and sustainable focused world, these alternative agriculture practices prepare incarcerated individuals to have skill sets that will compete with the changing times. While incarcerated, we are not only educated in this alternative aquaculture practice but we get to provide the fruits of our labor to the kitchen for mainline meals. The Cedar Creek aquaponics system is supported by the design team at Symbiotic Cycles. They also provide consultation and informational on-site visits conducting hands-on question/answer seminars for Cedar Creek SPP Technicians and Centralia College Horticulture students.

Aquaponic knowledge, from one program to another

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

This week, students and conservationists gathered in the greenhouse at Cedar Creek where Anna Duron led a workshop for the aquaponics program. Anna serves as the SPP Coordinator for the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program at Stafford Creek and drew from her background in utilizing aquaponics for conservation initiatives. The workshop focused on best practices when working with aquaponics and the chemistry behind maintaining a stable system.

SPP Coordinator Anna Duron and SPP Biological Science Technician Will Rathgeber show workshop participants how to test pH, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia for the water in the Cedar Creek aquaponics system.
Anna describes her work with the EVM aquaponics system at Stafford Creek, detailing the differences between varying approaches to aquaponics.

SPP Biological Science Technicians as well as students and TAs from Centralia College‘s horticulture program joined for the hands-on learning opportunity. They tested the pH, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels of the water in the aquaponics system, discussing why certain results were more desirable and how the plants respond if any of the readings are too high or too low.

Many of the workshop participants were current TAs or students in the Centralia College horticulture program at Cedar Creek.
Workshop participant watches the fish enjoy their breakfast.

Since many of the workshop participants were horticulture enthusiasts, they compared successes and challenges, finding commonality in obstacles like plant nutrition and integrated pest management. We look forward to continued collaboration with such an engaged group of students!

Workshop participants discuss plant health.

Happy Halloween from Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Text and photos by Graham Klag, Conservation Nursery Coordinator

This year’s pumpkin and squash harvest

Halloween pumpkins in prison! In addition to growing important prairie plants, technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center also grow a cornucopia of produce for Grays Harbor County’s Coastal Harvest Program. Their hard work and harvest provides food for hungry families and Halloween pumpkins for people in prison to enjoy. Happy Halloween!

Conservation nursery technician Dale King and the crew tilling new rows for the new season
From hoop house to table
A week’s worth of produce harvested and headed out to the community

Peer education created by and for incarcerated gardeners

By Carly Rose, SPP Curriculum Development Coordinator and Emerico, Gardening Curriculum Author

Gardeners tend to the soil in the gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit. Incarcerated authors at MCC-WSRU are working with SPP to author chapters on Vermicomposting, Bokashi Composting, and Soil Science. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For the past six months, gardeners at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit have been helping to build the new Gardening Curriculum. To develop course chapters, authors are combining expertise gained through personal experience with knowledge from scholarly research. Authors are working on a voluntary basis: they elect to share based on their desire to explore and describe a particular topic; some of the chapters currently in development include Vermicomposting & Bokashi Composting, Soil Science, the Soil Food Web, Planting and Harvesting Vegetables in Prison, Seed Saving, and Aquaponics.

Developing part of a curriculum while incarcerated requires some creativity. In order to submit materials, authors have provided handwritten work that is then typed and formatted by myself. One author types his work into JPay (social email) and mails it to a family member who mails it back, which gives him a pre-typed manuscript to submit. Most authors also provide their own illustrations and diagrams to be included in the chapter. Authors use a mixture of narrative from personal experience, tips on gardening that are specific to a prison environment, and college-level scholarly research to produce their work. They provide instruction that is created by and intended for incarcerated gardeners across the country. Authors and I send materials back and forth so they may provide feedback and edits on separate drafts of their work. One of the authors, Emerico, offered a personal narrative on his motivation to learn and write about his topic, Aquaponics. 

Introduction to Aquaponics by Emerico

I first became interested in aquaponics after reading a few articles and watching some educational television programs. I was working on the gardening crew at Stafford Creek and when the gardening classes started, I was thrilled to be included. Over time, I have learned every person—incarcerated or not—has a purpose in life. My purpose was building an aquaponics system with no budget. I had to lose my freedoms before I could find my purpose in life. This is where aquaponics all began for me. I had an idea, so I put it to paper and talked to the garden supervisor about the idea.

One of my first jobs on the garden crew was working with the hydroponics system. I found out that this type of system, which requires chemicals to grow plants and vegetables, is expensive and I believe far less healthy. My goal was to get away from using chemicals and go to more of a natural resource system. I thought about a way to build a small-scale aquaponics system that uses fish to feed the vegetables. After many attempts to get it approved, and with the help of the garden crew, we built a recycled materials aquaponics system. The first part of the vision of my idea came to life.

This is part of the aquaponics system built by Emerico, who is authoring a chapter on Aquaponics. He explained that he wants the chapter to be accessible to both incarcerated gardeners and low-income families outside of prison. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

There is a sense of satisfaction when growing your own vegetables whether for self/family or others. I believe also that gardening can relieve stress. This country is blessed; there should not be anyone going hungry. We see too much senseless hunger in our country and throughout the world. There must be a solution to this problem. How can we do this? By making people aware and teaching them that aquaponics is not only a healthier way to grow produce, but is also cheaper. Aquaponics saves money in the long run for people and their families, and is a fun way to bring families together in the garden.

As for me, it is all about giving back and helping those in the community and throughout society that are less fortunate. The purpose is to get a finer perception of aquaponics through research. Anyone can pretty much build a small-scale aquaponics system with a limited budget and few resources. I hope this brief overview has helped you. Above all else, have fun.

From his lab notebook, Emerico shows a diagram of the aquaponics system. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next Steps

The course is projected to pilot in winter of this year. The two teams of authors plan to be part of that process as well; they will be among the first to try out the new program. Their feedback during and after the trial run will help us further refine the course, and then be ready to share it statewide and beyond.

All of the authors have personal experience gardening in prison, working on projects such as this garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. This garden is tended by individuals serving a life sentence, and is known as the “lifer’s garden.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Growth!

Text and photos by Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator.

Following some adjustments this past winter, the aquaponics system at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) is now thriving. It took a lot of work and perseverance from Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) Biological Technicians, but their dedication has paid off.

Earlier this winter, SPP technicians noticed that these plants were looking a little yellow, an indication that they weren’t getting enough iron.

In January, Nick Naselli and Daniel Cherniske, co-founders of Symbiotic Cycles, assessed the state of the system and found that the pH, at 7.8-8, was too alkaline for plant life. The high pH had made the iron in the system inaccessible to the plants, resulting in yellowing of the leaves and stunted growth. In order to combat these problems, Symbiotic Cycles and SPP Biological Technicians changed the system’s bio-media from grow stones to red pumice rock and added iron nutrient to the system. Take a look through the photos to see the impact of these adjustments!

SPP Biological Technician, Lorenzo Stewart, situates the plugs in the system’s raft beds.
With the adjustments to the pH and iron levels, the greens started to take off.
SPP Biological Technician, Donald McLain, checks the plants for insects. Technicians spray plant leaves with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, natural soap, and water to deter the aphids.
Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder, Daniel Cherniske, assesses system progress during a recent site visit to Cedar Creek.

Plants that do well in an aquaponics system include leafy greens like lettuce, kale, chard, mustard greens, and bok choy. Cilantro and chives also thrive, and they even help keep away aphids.
The greens from this system are used in Cedar Creek’s kitchens to help provide the facility’s incarcerated population with fresh, healthy meals.

The greens are looking much better, well on their way to harvest.
After a little TLC, the plants are looking plush! The fan in this photo helps improve air circulation, which is beneficial for the plants and can help deter aphids.

With summer around the corner, SPP Biological Technicians will soon have to combat rising temperatures and increased sun exposure, but the introduction of a fan and shade cloth will help maintain a healthy and productive system.

Seed to Supper: a bittersweet goodbye

By Jacob Meyers, Conservation Nursery Coordinator


For the past year and a half, I’ve had a truly unique and remarkable opportunity. Once per month, I made the hour long trek out to Washington’s coast, not to surf or go clamming, but to teach a garden class to over 50 incarcerated individuals. The garden class began as a way for Ed Baldwin, the Ground/Nursery Specialist at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), to support and encourage the gardens at the facility. Former SPP Coordinator, Joey Burgess, joined the effort by offering a superb (and free) introductory gardening curriculum called Seed to Supper. Oregon Food Bank and Oregon State University Extension Service teamed up to create the course which aims to educate and inspire adults to grow a portion of their own food and build more food secure communities. Topics covered range from building and planning to maintaining and harvesting a garden.

A PowerPoint slide from one of the very first lessons of the Seed to Supper curriculum.

During one of my first trips to prison, I got to watch Joey teach one of these classes. Joey made teaching look effortless with a laid back, but confident persona. But the following month, it was me up in front of 50 inmates and not Joey. I’m not a shy person by any means (I acted on stage in college and high school in front of well more than 50 people) but this was a bit different. For one, when I started I was by no means ‘an expert’ on gardening. And two, I wasn’t sure how well my teaching style would be received.

SPP Nursery Coordinator, Joey Burgess, presenting the Seed to Supper curriculum to gardeners at Stafford Creek Correctional Center. Photo Credit: Ricky Osborne

I remember staying up late the night before my first class scouring the material over and over to make sure I could answer any and every question thrown my way. Of course, I had no such luck. But at the same time I find it kind of funny that I was so worried. I should have guessed that the class would be full of smart, thoughtful, knowledgeable and kind individuals, and it was. They asked me tough questions and challenged me. They took what I offered them, and—with their ideas and questions—made it better. I had been too focused not being a gardening expert or  that I am not a perfect teacher. It was helpful to remember that the students weren’t expecting me to be just as I wasn’t expecting them to be perfect students, or any of us to be perfect people. Sure, these men (and women) have made mistakes, but they are people. Many of whom are eager and thirsty for knowledge.

One of the unit gardeners at SCCC raises his hand to ask a question.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

So for the past year and a half I’ve made the same trek every month not just to teach a group of men about gardening and growing vegetables, but also to learn from them.

However, in 2019 the gardening education program is transitioning and so is my role in it. I won’t be leading the class at SCCC anymore, but there are exciting developments underway. SPP has signed an agreement with Oregon Food Bank to propose changes to the Seeds to Supper curriculum. SPP staff along with incarcerated students and educators at Monroe Correctional Complex and Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Department of Corrections staff, Institute for Applied Ecology, University Beyond Bars, and Tilth Alliance, will be suggesting revisions to the existing Seed to Supper curriculum, enhancing the course with additional modules on select topics, and transitioning the resources to support a peer-led model. Developing this peer-led format builds on a growing number of efforts to empower incarcerated people with resources and support to increase educational opportunities in prisons across the state. So while it means my time delivering the program has ended, the possibility for reaching more incarcerated men and women and sharing the joys and wonders of gardening has never been higher.

And so to the unit gardeners I had the privilege to teach and learn with and to the staff at Stafford Creek I got to work with, I say goodbye for now. Hopefully someday, I will see you in the garden.

Flowers in full bloom at one of the gardens at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

Out on the Farm

Text by former Cedar Creek Turtle Technician William “Bill” Anglemyer.
Forward by former SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Jessica Brown.
Photos by SPP Conservation Coordinator, Marisa Pushee (unless otherwise noted).

I met Bill during my first visit to Cedar Creek over a year ago when I started as SPP’s Turtle Program Coordinator.  Although Bill is quite humble in sharing his experience as a technician, he played a huge role in the success of the western pond turtle program: his organization, attention to detail, and dedication to the turtles’ health and welfare were instrumental to building the program. It was fun to witness his passion for reading and writing about environmental issues leading him to the Organic Farming Program at Evergreen. Recently, Marisa Pushee and I had the chance to visit Bill on the organic farm and get a tour of all the gardens and operations, including Bill’s carrots! Below are Bill’s own words about his time with SPP, and what he’s been up to since his time as a Turtle Technician.

Bill shows a harvest of his prized carrots at Evergeen’s Organic Farm. Photo by Tierra Petersen.

My name is William “Bill” Anglemyer. I spent over 3 years working as a Turtle Technician at Cedar Creek Correctional Center through SPP, in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. In those 3+ years, I did much more than care for turtles. I also raised Oregon spotted frogs for the summer of the first year and maintained cricket and mealworm breeding operations. Additionally, I was involved in the video monitoring of four different species of woodpeckers for a research program conducted by the US Forest Service.

In the western pond turtle program, I learned about the importance of biodiversity and the role of different species within our world. At first, most of this learning was done to counter arguments by staff and other inmates who failed to see the value in preserving endangered species. I spent my time studying textbooks on conservation biology and animal behavior (ethology). After a few years studying those subjects and countering arguments from different people, I began to really understand the importance and the dangers that go along with the current climate situation.

Along with my passion for environmentalism, I have always been interested in journalism. This is because I believe journalism is the only field in which a person’s job is to learn all they can about everything in the world.

Beautiful flowers growing at the Organic Farm on Evergreen’s campus.

I am currently enrolled in The Evergreen State College where I’m studying organic farming and the local food movement. My plan is to be a voice for small farmers in future journalistic pursuits. In one year I will complete my bachelor’s degree. My plan is to produce pieces on environmental, socio-economic, and social justice issues without the sensationalization that is part and parcel of many mainstream media productions. As to current projects, a classmate and I are working on a coffee table book of photography with pictures of recreational vehicles which feature a comical prefix added to their names.

After I complete my degree at Evergreen, I hope to attend the environmental journalism school at CU Boulder — more schooling never hurts when it comes to learning skills and making contacts.

Bill hard at work on the Organic Farm at Evergreen.

Caring about people, caring about place

by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is a fair trip from the Evergreen team’s offices in Olympia—a six hour drive, or a flight to Spokane and renting a car. Even so, each of us who has been before looks for excuses to go again. AHCC positivity and enthusiasm are infectious, and it is great fun to join them whenever we can.

A likely source of the positivity is the staff culture; it is easy to feel the influence of AHCC leadership and staff wellness and productivity throughout the facility. They take on new projects expecting to succeed, and work hard. At the same time, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They laugh a lot! They talk openly about their own faults, and poke friendly fun at others.

AHCC staff make fun during a sustainability meeting. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

AHCC’s waste sorting program is so effective that the incarcerated porter didn’t understand what the corrections staff meant when asking about “garbage.” That word starting to lose its meaning was so delightful that we all started to laugh.

Before a nature illustration class, Associate Heinrich talks with an incarcerated student. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Just as important, they also listen intently to others’ ideas and questions. They believe in each other, and do a grand job of celebrating everyone’s successes. The work environment is pervaded by a can-do attitude. As Kraig Witt, Recreation Specialist 4, has said, “This is our giant coloring book. Let’s play…there’s no can’t. We can do anything.

Their optimism finds many willing partners. AHCC hosts extraordinarily productive sustainability programs. To name a few: a thriving in-prison beekeeping club; Pawsitive dog training supported by two humane societies; more than 500 cords of firewood processed for donation to low income families each year; new quilting and vermicomposting programs. Most of the prison grounds are devoted to gardens, and when regional water contamination meant they needed to suspend growing vegetables, they planted flowers instead; they know how to make lemonade from lemons!

Correctional Program Manager Mike Klemke describes the Computers 4 Kids program. In the last year, incarcerated technicians refurbished 4,321 computers.

At the heart of these efforts is investing in AHCC staff. Associate Superintendent Kay Heinrich has said, “It really engages the staff to care about the environment of where they work. People care about where they’re working; it increases their morale.” A previously incarcerated SPP technician and current Evergreen student advised us that taking care of staff makes the prison experience better for everyone. We look to follow AHCC’s example on what that can look like.

AHCC dedicates a huge area to cutting and stacking cords of firewood for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP). Photo by Bethany Shepler.

 

UW & Prison Study Soil Health

Inmates at the WSRU Vermiculture program partner with the University of Washington to test the ability of soil health to influence human health

By Nick, Teaching Assistant for University Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex
Photos courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars

Ms. Landefeld harvests from the plots with the help of a composting technician.

With the goal of improving how we grow food, Washington State Reformatory (WSRU) vermiculture technicians and scientists from the University of Washington (UW) are studying soil health at the prison. The incarcerated technicians are assisting with scientific trials of different types of soils to see if they can produce vegetables containing higher levels of key elements that have been shown to improve human health.

Earlier this year the vermiculture program was approached by Dr. Sally Brown, a professor at the UW Ecosystem Science Division, College of Forest Resources, to assist in this project.  Dr. Brown had become familiar with the vermiculture program when she co-authored an article with one of the inmate technicians about some of the composting techniques employed at the facility. Dr. Brown had been working with graduate student Sally Landefeld on a series of trials to grow vegetables in several different types of soil to test for relationships between soil health and antioxidants and other important disease-fighting nutrients. On a tour of the facility, Dr. Brown noticed a unique opportunity in the gardens adjacent to the worm farm:  the soil there had been treated with composting by-products for several years, some areas with Bokashi-treated (fermented) compost and others with vermicompost (worm castings).

A trial plot is ready for planting; Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC). Photo courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars (UBB).

In April, Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld met with vermiculture technicians and set out three separate plots that would be used for the trials:

  1. No soil treatments with soil amendments
  2. Several treatments of Bokashi composted food waste over several years
  3. Heavily treated with worm castings and vermicompost.

One of the vermiculture technicians was asked to be the project lead. He and his peers prepared and marked the plots for planting.

Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld returned in May and planted broccoli, carrots and onions in all three plots.  Despite an ongoing battle with rabbits throughout the spring, by June the crops in all three plots were growing well.

Ms. Landefeld returned to the vermiculture program in mid-June to deliver an instructional presentation on how she decided on the path for her doctorate and what she was hoping to accomplish with the prison-hosted study. The WSRU vermiculture program offers a 1,000 hour SPP certification in collaboration with Tilth Alliance, and guest lecture are part of the curriculum. In this presentation, Ms. Landefelt said:

“We are just starting to understand the intricate relationship between soil health and public health. Healthy soil contains plenty of organic matter, which provides nutrients to plants, fosters microbial life, and improves soil physical properties including water holding ability and tilth.  If we deplete soil organic matter, we may reduce the soil’s ability to produce high yielding crops that are also rich in nutrients.  This project aims to (i) characterize soil health by analyzing soil properties including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, soil structure and microbial content, and to (ii) quantify both quantity and quality of the vegetables grown on the control and high organic matter plots.  In addition to plant yield, we will test the vegetables for nutrients, vitamin B6 (pyroxidal) and phytochemicals including sulforaphane, beta-carotene (provitamin A), and quercetin.”

Broccoli growing in the vermicompost plot.

By mid-July, the broccoli was ready to be harvested and Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld worked with the technicians to harvest from all three plots.

As the project progresses they will return to the prison periodically to harvest other vegetables and take soil samples.  The vitamins and phytochemicals will be tested using a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) in order to relate the phytochemical content of common garden crops with soil health.

This project is a great example of SPP’s vision to create a collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment in which incarcerated men and women play key roles in conservation and advancing scientific knowledge and has been a win-win for the vermiculture program as well as the University.

Dr. Brown and a vermiculture technician harvest from a trial plot.